Mandela Bay's saviour who wasn't


City saviour who wrote the book on ANC-looting of Nelson Mandela Bay Metro actually helped the theft.

The man who wrote the widely acclaimed exposé of ANC corruption, How to Steal a City: The Battle for Nelson Mandela Bay, Crispian Olver, it emerges, opened the way to a final multi-million-rand heist from the city’s coffers in the run up to the 2016 local government elections.

Olver, was “parachuted” into the metro administration in late 2015 by then Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Pravin Gordhan. It was Olver who first pushed for an existing municipal contract with ANC-connected Mohlaleng Media (Pty) Ltd to be extended to supply services to any number of municipal departments without tender, despite numerous red flags having been raised about the company.  

Crispian Olver

Olver had sweeping administrative and political powers to try to save the municipality from ruin and the ANC from electoral defeat in the 2016 poll.

“I could see nothing untoward about the contract although I knew the guy who owned the company was an ANC apparatchik called Cheslyn Mostert. He has for many years done business linked to ANC-controlled municipalities. The company’s ownership structure was fairly opaque but it was operational and we made use of it,” Olver admitted in an interview with Noseweek.

Despite concerns about the contract that were communicated to then-mayor Danny Jordaan’s office (nose216), it soon took on a life on its own and suddenly became the conduit for the purchase of just about any service by any department – from overalls, to food, to transport, to paying musicians – circumventing all tender processes and with next to zero accountability.

Sufficient evidence has emerged showing that the company submitted massively inflated invoices for services while it operated with impunity under the cover of the city’s then-ANC leadership – leaving in its wake a series of distressed businesses that were simply never paid.

In one example, Mohlaleng controversially took over the web-hosting contract in December 2014. They then sub-contracted the service back to the previous web-hosting contractor, Mars Technologies. Mohlaleng charged the city R110,880 for the service, but Mars Technologies was “squeezed” by Mohlaleng into settling for just over R80,000 a month, allowing Mohlaleng to skim R30,000 for doing nothing.

Despite this massive margin, Mohlaleng repeatedly did not pay Mars Technologies, resulting in the provider having no option but to turn off the website, twice, crippling city services. Mars has subsequently won the contract back and is now charging just less than R80,000 a month for the same service.

In terms of its original contract, Mohlaleng was to provide any service required by the city’s communications directorate on an “as and when required” basis over 36 months – with  a fee cap of R7.4 million. But it quickly became a full time job, with the company at one point taking up office space in the city’s administrative building rent free.

Between December 2014 and August 2016 the company invoiced the city for R21.04m and was accused of somehow using city money to print the ANC manifesto circulated at local rallies and printing posters and shirts for the ANC’s election campaign.

Olver told Noseweek he didn’t have sight of what Mohlaleng was charging but that the city “was riddled with corruption”, with “skimming” taking place on “almost every single contract we looked at”.

This Mohlaleng contract, which was suspended in September 2016, has become ground zero for the political battle between Mayor Mongameli Bobani and his DA predecessor, Athol Trollip, but for different reasons.

When Trollip took office he commissioned an “independent” investigation into the contract by Brown, Braude and Vlok Attorneys who in turn briefed advocates Bruce Morrison and Elmien Vermeulen to do the job. They completed their probe in July. The scope of the investigation was simple: to answer the question, did the ANC benefit from the contract?

The reason it took so long to complete the investigation was because key documents had disappeared. Also, in November 2017, Trollip told municipal manager Johann Mettler that  the draft was so poor it could not be deemed “classified”. He then ordered that it be redone.

Trollip told Noseweek that the report, which has not yet been made public, never found that the ANC had directly benefited from the Mohlaleng contract. “It doesn’t say the contract paid for ANC party political work and that is one of the reasons I gave the municipal manager as to why the investigation had not been thorough enough. I told [the investigators] the report was not adequate, but I can’t make them find all the findings I want them to find. If I could do that, there would be a lot of people in jail,” said Trollip.

Noseweek was unable to access any other information about what was contained in the report.

According to Trollip the final report could not be tabled before council because the ANC kept on bringing votes of no-confidence against him and disrupting council meetings.

On the other hand, new mayor Mongameli Bobani, directed by his United Democratic Movement (UDM) party boss Bantu Holomisa, has not denied that the company was likely part of widescale looting for the benefit of the ANC. However they believe Mettler and Trollip ignored the city’s own internal audit findings which concluded that Mettler and Olver were partly to blame for the spending frenzy. This twist effectively means the Trollip-commissioned investigation will remain buried.

Holomisa claims that Trollip and Mettler purged the metro’s internal audit officers Werner Wiehart and Bonita Chan, first by removing them from any involvement in the “independent” probe, and then by suspending them.

Holomisa has based his opinion on a dossier compiled by Wiehart – a fast-talking, swashbuckling, arrogant ex-cop.

But the evidence produced by Wiehart does identify Olver as a central roleplayer in the Mohlaleng saga. The evidence cannot merely be dismissed as the ranting of an “nutcase” – as Olver described Wiehart when speaking to Noseweek.

In September Holomisa wrote to Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu to probe Wiehart’s accusation. Trollip in turn has welcomed it, stating it will “clear” his name and expose the real looters. Makwetu told Noseweek his office would decide shortly on whether they will pursue the complaint.

Wiehart’s document is laced with palace intrigue but it is also fuelled with an obvious resentment against Mettler and Trollip.

Wiehart – and Holomisa – believe Mettler illegally extended the scope of the Mohlaleng contract in February 2016, allowing various city departments to procure services from them.  Wiehart said the extension was signed without the municipal manager having seen the original service level agreement and therefore was deemed “irregular expenditure”, according to the Municipal Finance Management Act. Trollip is accused of having turned a blind eye to Wiehart’s findings and then appointing the then-acting municipal manager Mettler, without informing the council of these allegations, to a full-time role in November 2016. 

Olver, a lifelong ANC activist, was central to Mohlaleng’s scope being expanded. 

He was part of the “clean-up crew” that was to include Mettler and national soccer boss Danny Jordaan. He helped see the end of the former city manager Mpilo Mbambisa, who left on a R1,047m package, and the “redeployment” of mayor Benson Fihla. Mettler arrived in December 2014 and in May 2015, Jordaan was brought in as mayor.  

Olver needed the Mohlaleng contract so he could hire two more political staffers for Jordaan’s office to help boost his image amongst local voters. He convinced Mettler on 29 February 2016 to sign an addendum to Mohlaleng’s service level agreement, so that other directorates – with the mayor’s office firmly in mind – could make use of their services.

Olver, who belonged to what would become known as the Ramaphosa faction, saw the Mohlaleng contract as a means to help the ANC win the upcoming election. 

Six days later the company provided Grant Pascoe, a former DA Cape Town chairperson, who has since joined the ANC, and Vukile Pokwana, a former journalist turned PR hack, at a combined cost of R192,888 a month.

While Holomisa believes the two “political appointments” were irregular, Olver disagrees. “I specifically used the [expansion of the Mohlaleng contract] to hire two communications people in Danny’s office, which some people have alleged was corrupt. We thought it was justified. I don’t think there was anything untoward about it,” Olver told Noseweek.

The reason Pascoe and Pokwana had to be paid by Mohlaleng was because all the available political posts financed directly by the city, were already filled.

A key reason why Mettler is suspended (having been disciplined by Bobani in September), is over his signing of the addendum service level agreement (SLA) and for not seeing the original SLA beforehand. It would later transpire that there was no original, which meant that Mohlaleng operated without any guidelines to its scope of work.

The manager responsible for this oversight was insurance fraudster Roland Williams, who was fired by Olver as head of the communications directorate for, among other issues, his handling of the Mohlaleng contract.

With the contract now being loaded with added monthly costs, by June 2016 – and 18 months into Mohlaleng’s three-year contract – the cap of R7.4m had long surpassed the R10m mark.

Mettler would later tell his internal audit department head Bonita Chan, who started probing the contract shortly after the 2016 election, that he had wanted to terminate the contract but was persuaded not to do so.

Mettler told Chan he had asked Olver to “pursue the possibility of absorbing Pascoe and Vukile Pokwana into the political staff in order to relieve pressure on Mohlaleng Media resources”.

He also told her he was concerned that an “as and when” contract had reached its limit.

On 21 June 2016 city COO Mzwake Clay pleaded in a letter with Mettler to lift the cap. He made particular mention that if this didn’t happen it would result in the “temporary suspension of the work done by the two communication specialists in the office of the executive mayor”.

Mettler told Clay he would ask the Bid Adjudication Committee to lift the cap but added that the city should terminate Mohlaleng’s contract in September 2016 and find a new service provider.

Days later Olver, having chatted to both the “slightly incompetent” head of communication Kupido Baron and Clay, emailed Mettler stressing the need for the Mohlaleng cap not only to be lifted but to be allowed to run until September 2017.

He also said he had spoken to the mayor’s office “regarding the appointment of Grant [Pascoe] and Vukile [Pokwana] on to the mayor’s political staff” but that he was advised “all the available posts have recently been taken up”.

“We will continue to look around for other posts to absorb them into, but for the meantime it seems they need to stay where they are on the Mohlaleng contract,” said Olver. It was clear that Olver needed the contract to run to strengthen Jordaan’s office.

By 15 July 2016 the cap was lifted. What happened next was a spending frenzy.

As a comparison, from December 2014 to May 2016 Mohlaleng had billed the city for R9,76m-worth of services, averaging just under R550,000 a month. Yet in June, July and August 2016 they billed the city for a combined total of R11,3m. 

These payments were actioned by Clay, Baron and the director in the mayor’s office Roelf Basson. At least R6,2m was authorised by Noxolo Nqwazi – then director of Sport, Arts, Recreation and Culture – within just five days, to pay for the “Mandela Music Festival”. (In mid-October 2018 Nqwazi was appointed acting municipal manager by Bobani.)

Among the reckless spending was the amount of R315,000 spent on the failed launch of the city’s Metro Police; a total of R7,580,000.02 on Mandela Music Festival; a Health and Safety event costing R168,480.52; and R192,888 on a sound system for the 2016 State of City Address (R70,000 more than all the other expenses incurred for the event combined).  

“When I investigate corruption, when people raise caps it raises red flags. It was certainly a red flag but it is not a corrupt activity in itself [to raise the cap] although it can hide corrupt activity,” Olver told Noseweek. 

“I guess the correct thing to have done was what Trollip eventually did and terminate the contract. But when you are trying to do 1,000 things at the same time, sometimes you have to work with what you’ve got and change what you can. Hindsight is a great thing but at the time we didn’t have it,” said Olver. 

Trollip, who was voted out as mayor in a vote of no-confidence in August, said that Olver was “certainly privy to increasing that contract”. “He had considerable influence. The police are now probing various matters in the city and President Cyril Ramaphosa has identified this city for special attention. It’s a good thing he has, because the same looters [pre-August 2016] are now back in power,” said Trollip. He was referring to the coalition which is propping up Bobani. It is mostly made up of ANC members who were instrumental in the party’s 2016 electoral defeat.

Olver still believes Mohlaleng was fairly priced although he admits “their work and output could have done with a huge amount of improvement”.

He said that Mettler was “in any event” in the clear, his only mistake being not having the Trollip-initiated investigation tabled before council “promptly”. He said Bobani has no interest in releasing the report now as it doesn’t serve his political agenda.

“I think what Trollip did was to clean up and reform. The ANC had an opportunity to clean itself up but by getting into bed with Bobani they have completely alienated themselves from the electorate,” said Olver.  

UDM leader Holomisa, on the other hand believes that Olver, Mettler and Trollip have a case to answer.

“They need to offer us a big explanation. Olver was part of the questionable transactions and they took place under the watch of Mettler – the accounting officer.

“When Bobani pointed out to Trollip his concerns over Mettler, Trollip had Bobani removed as deputy mayor on trumped up charges,” Holomisa told Noseweek.

The suspensions of Wiehart and Chan, he said, were unacceptable. 

Wiehart told Noseweek he believes his “integrity and objectivity is intact” and that he and Chan will eventually be cleared.

Mohlaleng’s CEO Musa Thabethe has consistently denied since 2016 that the company was involved in any wrongdoing.

 

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